Bizarre Newsweek labor ghost

So you are rolling through the Newsweek story on tensions in American labor and how they may hurt the Democratic Party and then you hit this ghost — which is left unexplained by Howard Fineman, of all people. Boooo! There is, you see, a showdown looming between “Change to Win” coalition leader Andy Stern and AFL president John Sweeney. It’s complicated, so check out the story. But here is the part that spooked me:

Some say [Stern] has another agenda, which is to take over the AFL-CIO from his former SEIU colleague Sweeney, who is half a generation older and cut from a different cloth: a Dorothy Day social activist from the working-class Bronx, N.Y., versus Stern, whose grandparents were members of an exclusive German-Jewish country club and who is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

OK, so it’s a class reference. But you can’t help but note the Catholic Worker tag on one side and the “German-Jewish” label on the other. Say what precisely is being said here?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Phil Blackburn

    As a piece of writing surely there are three questions to be asked about this:

    1. Does the use of these tags paint a picture?
    2. Is the picture accurate?
    3. Why do these partially-religious tags carry such strong class references?

    In my view this passage does give a vivid picture of a potential class transformation in a traditional working-class bastion – a turnaround with parallels to the, essentially middle-class, ‘New Labour’ revolution in the UK. I do think though that the second tag only works as ‘exclusive German-Jewish country club’ – the German-Jewish on its own doesn’t carry the resonance for me.


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